Thursday 2 October 2014

The Mumsnet Book of Animal Stories

This year we had over 600 entries to our children’s story writing competition in collaboration with Mumsnet and Gransnet. Today we are delighted to be publishing the ten winning stories in The Mumsnet Book of Animal Stories, a beautifully illustrated gift book by parents, for parents, chosen by a panel of judges, including Anthony Browne, Miriam González Durántez, Lucy Mangan and Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet. 

Three of the winning authors share their experiences with us in an exclusive post for Picture Book Party:

Jo Tiddy, author of Atuki and Serai

I always wanted a goat. As a child growing up in Africa, I would stare out of the window on long car journeys and see small totos with their little herds, by the roadside. That’s what I wanted to be doing, not going to school. I begged and begged, but Mum was adamant. No way was I going to be a goat girl. In the intervening years I have moved continents. I have acquired dogs, cats, children and a husband, not necessarily in that order. I have been a town planner, a conservation officer, a school dinner lady, and latterly a bookshop worker. Still no goat though.

The Mumsnet/Walker Books competition was a light bulb moment for me. I love stories, I love writing them and I love telling them, particularly to children. There is something magical about holding the attention of a class of wriggling five years olds for a few moments. Here was an opportunity to bring my goat to life.

Serai, the goat, is the one I wanted as a child. Atuki, the girl, is who I wanted to be. Together they have adventures and face danger, and learn together. Important things, like bravery and courage and kindness. All children aspire to these virtues, and if a story can help them overcome their own fears and worries then all the better. 

So I wrote a story and sent if off.

When I heard I had been shortlisted I was ecstatic, more so when I heard I’d made the final ten. Much squeaking ensued. Daisy, my editor, was most helpful, suggesting places where the story could be tightened up, explaining how to strengthen the theme and refrain. Martha Anne, the illustrator, has done a fantastic job of interpreting Atuki and Serai. It’s as if she’s been delving into my childhood memories, seeing the pictures that I wrote on the page, picking up the bright fabric and patterns that I recall of African life and translating them perfectly. Her pictures tell the story itself.

Thanks to Mumsnet and Walker Books I now have my very own goat, and I am so thrilled.

Eilidh Mackay, author of The Winged Lion

When I spotted the Mumsnet and Walker Books children's story competition online, I was very excited. After a year of health problems which had left me virtually housebound, I had recently started writing for fun again. I spent ages planning, writing and polishing my entry and, when I was finally happy with it, sent it off. 

A couple of days before the competition's closing date, I was caught up in the usual hectic bedtime routine with my three young children when an idea popped into my head. I scribbled down the bare bones of it (while trying to keep my notebook dry as the kids splashed most of the bathwater over the floor – bad mummy!). Late that night and into the next day I wrote – then I submitted it.

My second story was inspired by my oldest daughter, Gabriela, (now aged eight) and her friend Sofia – in fact, I used their names for the two main characters in The Tale of the Winged Lion. The girls now live on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean – Gabriela here in the Outer Hebrides and Sofia in New Jersey, USA. Sofia's mum, Janine, and I formed a close friendship during the girls' first year when we both lived in Glasgow and have kept in touch ever since. The story is a magical fairy tale, with references to the beautiful island where my family have made our home. 

Of course, it was the second story which made the shortlist, then – wonder of wonders – was one of the winning ten stories to be published in a beautifully bound anthology of animal stories. That's right, published! Me! More to the point, my story had been read by the three respected judges – Lucy Mangan, Miriam González Durántez and former Children's Laureate Anthony Browne – and they liked it.

I was beyond delighted when I heard the news that I'd won – as was Gabriela, who was chuffed to bits that she would feature in a real book (she's such a bookworm!). Then followed editing, through which I was expertly guided by the (very patient) Daisy from Walker Books. Daisy made this easy for me, explaining everything as we went along through various email exchanges. When we were both happy that my story was the best it could be, we came to my favourite part of the process – seeing The Tale of the Winged Lion brought to life by Kate Alizadeh's wonderful illustrations. Kate listened to my ideas, making changes where I asked, including Gabriela's blonde hair and Sofia's dark locks! Kate's artistic style really suits my whimsical story – a great pairing from Walker! 

So I am about to be a published author. Christmas is sorted this year – signed copies for all! This recognition of my writing has energised me and I continue to write for both children and adults – I'm currently working on a novel set here in the Outer Hebrides. And as for the other story I entered – well, there's always work to be done when you're writing!

Susannah O’Brien, author of Captain Yuri

Last Christmas, I was 15 weeks pregnant and had spent most of the previous three months feeling queasy whilst running around after my lovely, lively toddler. When I heard about the competition I thought it sounded like it might be a fun thing to do, and I wrote the story over a couple of lunchtimes whilst Felix was napping. I told my husband that if I won we could use the money to buy a double buggy!

I was thrilled to be shortlisted. I read Lucy Mangan in The Guardian every week, and it was very exciting to think that she would now be reading my work. The news of the win came during a difficult few weeks as we were moving house, and it was lovely to have a bit of good news amidst the chaos of packing boxes. Seeing my words put to illustrations was brilliant; It was so interesting to see how the artist had interpreted my story of the little hamster astronaut.

I am very excited to see the book published. I re-read the story recently and was reminded of the fact that I had given our hero’s gentle and quiet sidekick the name Ted. This is the very name we have given our new baby. He is quite gentle, he is certainly not quiet, but he does seem to like his (prize-winning) double buggy!

Be the first to get your hands on a copy of The Mumsnet Book of Animal Stories, available fro all good booksellers.